Tony Albert (b.1981, Townsville of Bundjulung/Ngāpuhi territories; lives and works in Meeanjin/Brisbane) is one of Australia’s leading contemporary Aboriginal artists, whose work explores ideas around the stereotypical ways Aboriginal people are regularly represented and described.
Reaching nearly five metres high, House of Discards resembles a monumental house of playing cards. Albert departs from his established representational style, removing imagery from the faces of the cards, which are instead rendered in simple black and white planes placed back-to-back. The oversized sculpture suggests the differing perspectives on Australia’s national history, founded on dispossession. Albert’s structure also recognises our interdependance as a people, and suggests a shared vision for the future. The structure appears precarious, enacting a delicate balancing act, yet its inflated rendering in steel also suggests the possibility of a constructing something sturdier if all elements can work together.
Albert regularly makes use of “Aboriginalia”, a term used to describe kitsch objects that feature crude caricatures of Aboriginal people and appropriated designs in the style of Indigenous art, including tea towels, ashtrays, wall-hangings, mugs and playing cards. “Aboriginalia” playing cards are a potent motif through which to reflect on the legacy of colonisation, and associated concepts of hierarchy, class systems, and even chance. They often featured Aboriginal figures emblazed on one side of the card, and representations of the British Monarchy on the other.
Tony Albert’s multidisciplinary practice explores contemporary legacies of colonialism in ways which prompt audiences to contemplate elements of the human condition. Appropriating sources as diverse as popular music, film, fiction, and art history, Albert plays with the tension arising from the visibility, and in-turn, the invisibility of Aboriginal People across the news media, literature, and the visual world. His practice is concerned with the legacy of racial and cultural misrepresentation; unpacking what it means to judge and be judged in the absence of recognition or understanding.
Albert has exhibited extensively both nationally and internationally. Recent solo exhibitions include; Conversations with Margaret Preston, Sullivan+Strumpf (2021); Duty of Care, Canberra Glassworks (2020); Wonderland, Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney (2019); Native Home, Sullivan+Strumpf, Encounters, Art Basel Hong Kong (2019) Confessions, Contemporary Art Tasmania (2019); Visible, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane (2018) and Unity, Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney (2018). Recent group exhibitions include; Occurrent Affair: proppaNOW University of Queensland Art Museum (2021); NIRIN: 22nd Biennale of Sydney (2020); The National 2019: New Australian Art, Carriageworks, Sydney; Dark Mofo, Museum of Old and New Art, Tasmania (2019); I am Visible, commission for Enlighten Festival Canberra, National Gallery of Australia, ACT (2019); Just Not Australian, Art Space, Sydney (2019) ; Weapons for the Soldier, Hazelhurst Arts Centre, Sydney and touring (2018); Continental Drift, Cairns Regional Art Gallery, Queensland (2018); Defying Empire: 3rd National Indigenous Art Triennial, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra (2017); and When Silence Falls, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (2016).
Albert is represented in major collections including the National Gallery of Australia; the Australian War Memorial, Canberra; the Art Gallery of New South Wales; the Art Gallery of Western Australia and Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art—Queensland Art Gallery.
Location: SAM Forecourt
Image: Tony Albert, House of Discards, 2019, Shepparton Art Museum Collection, donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Tony Albert, 2020.© the artist. Photo: Christian Capurro